Christmas period dampened by influenza surge

Queue at the Tõnismägi pharmacy in Tallinn over the Christmas break, one of only two pharmacies in Tallinn which remained open 24 hours during the holiday period.
Queue at the Tõnismägi pharmacy in Tallinn over the Christmas break, one of only two pharmacies in Tallinn which remained open 24 hours during the holiday period. Source: Priit Luts/ERR

The Christmas holiday season has seen a surge in influenza cases, with the confirmed number of people diagnosed with the virus increasing nearly four-fold, from 24 to 90, in just a week, though the picture varies from hospital to hospital.

The figure for people suffering from viral infections of the upper respiratory tract in general also rose. Close to 4,000 people sought medical help during the Christmas week, almost half of them children.

The influenza 'season' is generally taken to start around October, and the Health Board (Terviseamet) issued a 'flu vaccine this Autumn. However, the sudden upturn in cases around Christmas is still noteworthy.

More statistics paint a similar picture. The number of people visiting the doctors increased by 700, and laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza also rose, from 10 to 16, over the same period.

Expected rise

Almost twice the number of people checked in with respiratory tract-related illnesses at the emergency room at the North Estonian Regional Hospital in Tallinn on 25 and 26 December, than would normally be the case, according to departmental head Kristiina Põld. 

''Fortunately we predicted the increase in workload and had additional doctors on hand both days,'' Ms Põld told ERR, adding that the overall volume of people passing through the emergency room as no higher than usual, since trauma cases, for instance, were actually lower than average.

The cases as noted have particularly affected the young. According to the children's hospital helpline at the north Estonian hospital, Sunday 23 December was the busiest day so far during the holiday period, with wait times as much as five or six hours, coat wardrobes completely full and an insufficient number of chairs in waiting rooms. That said, most cases at the children's hospital were not flu-related but arose from other causes, the helpline said.

Year-on-year (y-o-y) the figures also saw a rise; whereas the family doctor advice line (1220) received between 800 ad 850 calls per day during the Christmas holiday period (24-26 December) in 2017, this year over 900 calls were made, rising to over 1,000 on Christmas day, with most calls relating to viral infections and other fever-related causes, according to the line's project manager Klarika Kallikorm-Rannametsa.

Other hospitals saw no change

However, the story was not the same everywhere. The East Tallinn Central Hospital, did not see a significant upturn in patients, according to the head of its emergency room, Märt Põlluveer.

''About a dozen people were sent home per day, having been diagnosed with influenza, and noone required a hospital stay,'' Mr Põlluveer said.

Two of the culprit viruses, A(H1N1)pdm09 (actually swine flu) and A(H3N2), were covered by the recent influenza vaccine made available, according to Health Board communications chief Simmo Saare.

The vaccine does not provide 100% effectiveness, however, so it is possible that some of those who presented at hospital with influenza had in fact had it.

The previous winter saw an influenza epidemic which killed several dozen peopl.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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